Babies in regalia: Kotzebue marks return of in-person beauty pageants

The grand champion of the 2021 Lovie Harris Baby Beauty Contest, Jennifer Clare Gupaaq Nanouk, and her mother Kristen Sheldon. (Wesley Early/KOTZ)

Cloudy skies and a light drizzle didn’t dampen the spirits of residents of Kotzebue on the Fourth of July as hundreds gathered across town to celebrate. This year’s celebration brought back some of the exciting in-person events that had been canceled last year due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

On July 4, 2020, about three months after the COVID-19 pandemic shut down much of the world, the only major event in Kotzebue commemorating the holiday was a parade.

“Last year it was pretty close to shut down,” said Chad Nordlum, the head of the City of Kotzebue’s Parks and Recreation department.

Nordlum says this year’s celebration didn’t have the same events as in pre-pandemic years, like the maktak eating contest, tug-of-war or blanket toss, but it was more open than last year.

A little girl on the NANA parade float tosses out candy. (Wesley Early/KOTZ)

“The way we approached it was to try to avoid the really big gatherings and spread people out throughout town and have smaller gatherings and events,” Nordlum said. “We want people to get together and see their friends and have good food, but we want to avoid huge gatherings, so the fairgrounds is closed.”

Residents were able to apply with the city to set up vendor stands along the route of the parade of vehicles.

After the parade, local organizers began to gather near Kotzebue Sound for the Lovie Harris Baby Beauty Contest. The annual event allows families to show off the traditional regalia of their families. It was held virtually last year.

Ashley Stickman organized the event. She says the gathering was smaller due to crowd restrictions and the short notice of the event.

“I wasn’t even sure until about two weeks before Fourth of July that we were going to have it,” Stickman said. “The numbers are typically doubled. We normally have anywhere from 20 to 25 babies in the 0-11 month category and easily close to 30 in the older category.”

Despite the smaller pool of baby talent this time around, the contestants dazzled the crowd. While some were decked out in colorful atikluks, parkas and maklak boots, others got more creative, with one wearing a tanned sheefish outfit and another wearing clothes sewn from their father’s military uniform. But there could be only one grand prize.

“For our overall, grand champion of the 2021 Lovie Harris Baby Beauty contest goes to Jennifer Clare Gupaaq Nanouk,” Stickman announced to an ecstatic crowd.

Miss Arctic Circle Kaliksuna Autumn Madison (left) and Miss Teen Arctic Circle Inugikquq Katlyn Jade Smith (Wesley Early/KOTZ)

As Gupaaq Nanouk squirmed around, her mother Kristen Sheldon described her regalia.

“Her atikluk was made by Cindy Lincoln,” Sheldon said. “And the parkie was made by my grandma May Douglas with calfskin in the back.”

Babies also won for most patriotic, most creative and most traditional. Stickman says all of the babies went home with an award.

“I honestly, you know how crazy and hectic it can be at some point, this is what makes it worth it,” Stickman said. “Doing the participation awards, getting to recognize the babies for their personalities. Getting to see them in their regalia.”

The contestants for Miss Arctic Circle and Miss Teen Arctic Circle. (L-R) Kaliksuna Autumn Madison, Paiyiq Jessica Jean Dublin, Kuutuuq Alesha Norton, Quqqutchiq Hailee Jade Luther, Inugikquq Katlyn Jade Smith, Qitupan Cecelia Joule, and Putruq Evelyn Lovey Garfield. (Wesley Early/KOTZ)

Later in the day, locals reconvened next to Kotzebue Sound for the last major event of the day, the Miss Arctic Circle and Miss Teen Arctic Circle pageant. The contestants opened the pageant with a group dance performance by the Northern Lights Dancers.

Five teenagers and two young women competed for Miss Teen Arctic Circle and Miss Arctic Circle respectively.

Inugikquq Katlyn Jade Smith is crowned Miss Teen Arctic Circle by previous winner, Kylene Lie. (Wesley Early/KOTZ)

Miss Teen Arctic Circle was crowned first, with Miss Teen Native Village of Kotzebue Inugikquq Katlyn Jade Smith claiming victory. She credited the closeness of her community in helping her succeed. She says she’s most excited about meeting other pageant contestants at the Miss Teen World Eskimo Indian Olympics pageant.

“Meeting a lot of people who already know how to make a difference and learning from them and starting to make change,” Smith said. “Learning from everyone around me has helped me with all of my values.”

Miss Arctic Circle Kaliksuna Autumn Madison addresses the crowd after her coronation. (Wesley Early/KOTZ)

The crowd was equally excited when Miss Maniilaq Kaliksuna Autumn Madison won Miss Arctic Circle shortly after. Madison won Miss Teen Arctic Circle a couple years ago, but she says she’s much happier winning the Miss Arctic Circle pageant.

“This is a greater feeling of excitement,” Madison said. “The first time I won it was handed down to me, I wasn’t crowned on the Fourth of July. So this is more exciting. Actually getting crowned on the Fourth.”

Madison says she’s looking forward most to the talent portion of the upcoming Miss WEIO pageant.

And as the Fourth of July festivities came to a close in Kotzebue, local officials say they’re eager for next year, when they hope to reopen the fairgrounds and bring the celebration to its full glory.

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